A recently launched local campaign – Pompey Street Space – formed by a coalition of Portsmouth environmental and community groups is calling on Portsmouth City Council to work in partnership with them, to enable more residents to cycle and walk safely through the city now the government is easing lockdown and local streets are becoming busier. Sarah Cheverton reports.
If you’ve walked or cycled through the city recently, you’ll be familiar with two things: the roads are getting busier as lockdown regulations are eased, and social-distancing if you’re walking is almost impossible in some areas of the city. A new local campaign is offering to work with the City Council to address the challenge.
Pompey Street Space is a joint campaign by Portsmouth Friends of the Earth, Portsmouth Cycle Forum, Let Pompey Breathe, XR Portsmouth, Portsmouth Green Drinks and Portsmouth Playing Out.
What’s the problem?
Campaign organisers recently highlighted just a few examples of the problems facing local residents who are keen to build on the increase in cycling and walking in the city caused by the lockdown, but are finding it difficult.
In London Road, pavements are simply too narrow for pedestrians to be able to social distance, pushing them into roads that are now seeing far more traffic (see image below).
Meanwhile, in Albert Road, roadworks are making it more difficult for pedestrians to safely navigate the streets (see image below).
Pompey Street Space is calling on the Council to ‘immediately:
- Widen narrow pavements on busy streets so that people can keep two metres apart whilst walking, queuing for shops etc
- Create a city-wide network of roads that give priority to cyclists and pedestrians
- Create commuter cycle routes to allow people who usually travel by public transport to get quickly and safely to work’
The campaign states that ‘these changes need to happen quickly, and as Croydon, Manchester, Brighton and other cities have shown they can be put in place cheaply using ‘pop up’ measures such as footway extension, thermoplastic tape, bollards and planters.’
Campaigner Rachel Hudson of Portsmouth Friends of the Earth supports the campaign.
‘These are stressful times for business owners and employees: so it’s worth noting that an ever-growing number of studies show that if a city prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists this boosts retail spending, especially in independent shops. These are the shops currently most at risk of closure, so this plan could offer a lifeline.’
The coalition are asking local residents to get involved in a variety of ways, including an online petition that has – at the time of writing – gained more than 2,400 signatures. However, they’re asking for more support from local residents, particularly from the north of the city. The campaign shared on Twitter on 4th June:
‘We’ve averaged 136 signatures a day over 18 days…But 2,459 is still only ~1.1% of the population of Portsmouth. If you can, please help our campaign reach the north of Portsea island. e.g. Anchorage Pk, Buckland, Hilsea, Stamshaw, Tipner’.
Pompey Street Space has also published an open letter to the Council, which has been signed by a wide range of local businesses, ward councillors, community groups such as Fratton Big Local and Milton Planning Forum, voluntary sector organisations such as Christian Aid, nurseries, academics from the University of Portsmouth, the local Students Union (UPSU), GPs, and arts organisations such as Aspex Gallery and the Jack House Gallery, among many others. Individual signatories also include Rev. Canon Bob White (St Mary’s Church), Portsmouth FC player Christian Burgess, local children’s author and illustrator Neal Layton.
The letter states:
…now the lockdown is easing, people are returning to work, and traffic levels are rising.
On top of this the government has advised against using public transport, so there is a real danger that cars become the default mode of socially distanced travel.
For Portsmouth, as the most densely populated city in the UK, that would be a public health disaster. To give just one example: shopping in places with narrow pavements like London Road would be virtually impossible without stepping into the path of traffic.
It would also mean going back to a severe congestion, harmful levels of air pollution, and some of the most dangerous roads for cyclists outside of London.
You can read the letter in full and see all the signatories to date here.
What can the council do?
Portsmouth saw a dramatic downturn in car use during lockdown, and the Council reports on its website that:
Portsmouth has seen an increase of 73% in cycling and for this to continue it is important that space is made to do this safely. The way people use footpaths and roads is also changing for businesses as they need to create queues outside and in the future when restaurants reopen they may need space on the streets to operate safely.
The Liberal Democrat-led Council have introduced a number of measures already designed to encourage people to cycle and to enable pedestrians to observe social distancing. A full list of these measures can be found on the Council website.
S&C asked Council Leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transportation, Cllr Lynne Stagg for their thoughts on the Pompey Street Safe campaign.
‘The City Council has been very active in this area,’ said Councillor Vernon Jackson.
‘We have closed two sections of the seafront road to allow people to move along the seafront with more space to walk and cycle. We are introducing a long temporary cycle lane on the Eastern Road removing one lane of traffic.
‘We have closed Charlotte St to cars to allow [cyclists] using the cycle way in and out of the city along the dock wall, to do so without getting too close to each other. We are also closing the road around the town station and through through Guildhall Square and Guildhall Walk to allow for people to get down towards the seafront.
‘The campaign is useful and I’m glad that the City Council has accelerated plans that there were already in place to address this.’
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, also recently acknowledged the problem on Albert Road, and said the Council would prefer the roadworks not to be taking place, but were over-ruled by guidance from the Government. In an interview with Rob James at Express FM, transcribed and published exclusively on S&C he said:
‘…I’ve moaned about it [the roadworks on Albert Road] as well, because these work people have restricted the pavement a great deal but unfortunately they’re laying cables for broadband. Again the government’s decision is that getting that cabling in for broadband is more important, at the moment, than social distancing. So they said it’s okay for them to work in the way that they are doing. We would like to say ‘No’ to them and that you can’t be doing it during this time but unfortunately we’re trumped by the government.’
Councillor Stagg highlighted the Council’s commitment to the proposals outlined in the campaign, telling S&C, ‘I’m happy to say we have had all these suggestions planned for many months and have prioritised them according to need and our ability to fund them. The Covid 19 situation had obviously brought several of those schemes forward and the funding by Grant Shapps is enabling us to implement some of them now.’
‘We have consulted with all ward councillors to find out from them the pinch points in their wards where improvement for both cycling and walking can be made and together with detailed information on the Widenmypath app we will prioritise areas and schemes to put into our bid for the second tranche of the funding.
‘Other schemes will be implemented including those in our LCWIP [Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan] when we have additional funding, but they are already outined within our Integrated Transport Strategy which includes much more than just cycling and walking, such as improved public transport services and rolling out more on-street EV charging points to encourage and enable residents to use their cars less and reduce air pollution. We are also installing cycle hangars so that potential cyclists can go ahead and get cycles in the knowledge that they can be securely stored without having to bring them through their homes or up stairs in blocks of flats or HMOs [houses in multiple occupation].
‘This is in addition [to] planting thousands of trees to absorb carbon dioxide and generally make the city more healthy and attractive for everyone but particularly walkers and cyclists.’
Councillor Stagg also highlighted the challenges ahead, ‘But please remember that implementing many improvements isn’t easy in a city built on an island with only three roads on and off with other Victorian residential roads being very narrow. It’s a real challenge but one we are up for.’
Cllr Graham Heaney, Opposition Spokesman for Traffic and Transportation, who is one of three councillors who signed the campaign’s open letter, told S&C:
The Labour Group is supporting the Pompey Street Space Campaign. There are two reasons why we think it is important to do this. We already have problems with poor air quality in the city and the government now requires us to tackle this. The Coronavirus pandemic will require social/physical distancing for some time to come as the lockdown is gradually eased. We will need to change the way we travel for work, shopping, moving goods and leisure and we have an opportunity to do this. Improving safe walking and cycling will be an important part of this.
The council has already taken some steps towards this like closing seafront roads for cyclists and pedestrians but we need a comprehensive approach. The government is requiring councils to bring forward plans to change the priority on road space so we should bring forward proposals for more sustainable travel in the city.
However, Conservative leader Donna Jones recently expressed reservations about the number of changes the Council has made without consulting local businesses, particularly local taxis.
Campaign representative Nick Sebley of Portsmouth Climate Action Board said, ‘We acknowledge and welcome the ‘quick wins’ that the Council have announced in the south of the city; however the key demand of our campaign is that these become a joined-up city-wide network, so everyone in Portsmouth can walk, wheel and cycle safely.’
S&C has also contacted the Opposition spokesmen for Traffic and Transportation Cllr Simon Bosher for comment.
UPDATE, 13.35, 5th June: On 4th June, Portsmouth City Council reversed their own decision to introduce a temporary cycle lane on the Eastern Road from 15th June. At the time of writing, no formal annoucement of the decision had been made public.
The decision follows an increase in traffic coming into the city and a petition in opposition to the Council’s plan, demanding that the local authority:
– ‘fully re-open Eastern Road to motor traffic
– ‘that it urgently carries out a full consultation with all road users, including motorists, taxi drivers, football fans accessing Fratton Park and local business operators, as well as cyclists and pedestrians
– ‘that the views of residents are respected and changes only made where popular support can be proven.’
The Pompey Street Space campaign shared this response to the news on their Facebook page.
Yesterday Portsmouth City Council decided not to go ahead with the proposed cycle lane on the Eastern Road. We had reservations about the plans ourselves, however it now becomes even more essential to provide alternative routes to keep people cycling safely.
In the last week, Copnor Road has seen traffic volumes 10% above pre lockdown levels. And this is with most shops still closed. What will happen to traffic volumes, and thus congestion and air pollution, once the economy fully opens up on June 15th?
We must act now. Our proposal is from a local study carried out in 2018. It suggests a cycle corridor that runs parallel to London Road, that would enable people who usually commute by bus, train or car within Portsea Island to travel quickly and safely by bike instead. See the red line on the graphic below.
This article has been updated as follows:
- at 9.10am 5th June to include Cllr Graham Heaney’s statement
- at 13.35 5th June to correct the quote from Rachel Hudson
- at 13.35 5 June to add an update that the Council decided on 4th June not to go ahead with the proposed cycle lane on the Eastern Road
Find out more
To find out more and see regular updates on the Pompey Street Space campaign, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
See the Liberal Democrats website for a report from Cllr Stagg on her recent meeting with the campaign representatives.
You can read the proposal the graphic above is taken from in the 2018 Portsmouth Inspiration Study report here.